This page contains media coverage of the California Gambling Control Commission's August 19th vote to award Irving Moskowitz a conditional license to operate his Hawaiian Gardens Casino. To read our account of the August 19th hearing and vote, please click here.
In addition to the newspaper reports and editorial below, Pasadena radio station KPs CC-FM, held a discussion about Moskowitz's license bid on the day of the hearing. Coalition Advisory Board Member Chuck Greenberg and a Moskowitz attorney appeared on the program, hosted by Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times. To hear the discussion click here, which will take you to the KPCC's "Airtalk" page. Once you get there, page down to "Decision on Gaming License for Hawaiian Gardens."
Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2004
Casino at Center of Turmoil.
The controversial owner seeks a permanent license amid claims
of labor code violations and misconduct
By Sam Quinones
Times Staff Writer
After almost a year of contentious proceedings, the owner of the Hawaiian Gardens Casino will go before a state licensing board today to ask for a permanent gambling license.
Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz, a multimillionaire hospital owner who now resides in Florida, has gained international attention for funneling millions of dollars to pay for Jewish settlements on land in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in parts of the West Bank.
Moskowitz's casino is also the target of allegations by current and former employees who say that the operation has been the scene of loan-sharking, improper tip pooling and job-selling.
Moskowitz, Mike Sarabi, the club's general manager, and Beryl Weiner, an attorney who has represented Moskowitz for many years, all referred calls for comment to Bion Gregory, a Sacramento attorney representing Moskowitz.
"We don't believe there's any merit in the allegations," said Gregory.
"The Division of Gambling Control, in our experience, has been very good at investigating illegal activity in gambling casinos," Gregory said, referring to the branch of the state attorney general's office that investigates casinos. "I can't believe that these kind of allegations would not have been investigated. We've heard nothing from them."
By law, gambling licenses are to be accompanied by an extensive background investigation of the casino's owner and managers. The employees making the allegations, however, say that state agencies have not contacted them.
Moskowitz's activities have been controversial for many years. His supporters in Hawaiian Gardens, the smallest city in Los Angeles County, hail him as a financial benefactor. His casino provides 75% of the city's $11 million budget. In a 2003 city election, the slate of candidates supporting Moskowitz had no opposition.
His activities in the Mideast, however, have drawn a large number of critics, who consider him a danger to any prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Those critics have made the hearings over Moskowitz's license the most extensive in the short history of the state's Gambling Control Commission.
The hearings have been contentious, with critics and supporters of Moskowitz sparring in exchanges that include gambling and local issues as well as debates over biblical teachings and Middle East politics.
Most of the state's roughly 100 card clubs already have upgraded their provisional licenses to permanent status since the commission was established in 2000, but Moskowitz's application has been stalled.
Anna Carr, spokeswoman for the Gambling Control Commission, said that a vote by the four-member commission on whether to aprove the casino license is possible today.
Five current and former employees who allege improper activities at the casino have sued the establishment. Their suits allege labor-code violations. In interviews, the five, as well as two others who spoke on condition of anonymity, allege that loan sharking is widespread at the club and that the casino's money has been used to bankroll it.
Players as well as dealers are lent money, often at 10% interest per week, they said.
Kim Tran, a current employee suing the casino, said in an interview that she ran chips for a man who worked at the casino and, she said, was a loan shark. The man lent money to players, to dealers and to supervisors at an interest rate of 10% per week, she said.
Louie Lu, who was a dealer at the casino until he was fired in 2003, said he had repeatedly contacted state gambling agencies, sent them documents and letters and had seen no results. Lu said that he was an informant for the Department of Justice between 2001 and early 2003, giving several long interviews to three different teams of agents, and wearing a concealed tape recorder into the casino where he taped conversations. He said he never heard what results, if any, those investigations produced.
Lu is the lead plaintiff in a suit that was certified earlier this month as a class action on behalf of the club's card dealers. The suit alleges that the casino illegally takes dealers' tips and provides no record of what is done with the money.
Blackjack dealers must also give up to half their tips to supervisors, the employees allege in court affidavits and interviews. The employees who have filed suit claim that those tips are not shared with other employees, nor is any record kept of the money.
"Where does that cash go? It must go somewhere. It wasn't going to employees," said Lu.
In interviews, the employees also alleged that job-selling is commonplace at the casino. Dealers must pay up to $10,000 for jobs at the highest-stakes tables, they said.
In 1995, with few revenue options available to the city, residents voted in favor of a card club to be run by Moskowitz.
The campaign - fueled by money from Moskowitz promoting the casino and by competing card clubs opposing it - "was the largest campaign we'd ever seen," said Nelson Oliva, then Hawaiian Gardens city manager.
"You'd think we were running some kind of state campaign on some state issue."
Now, after years of turbulent battles, the firing of several top managers at City Hall and a recall of two City Council members, Moskowitz and his casino appear to have strong support among elected officials in Hawaiian Gardens.
The city's finances, meanwhile, have made an abrupt turnaround. Before the casino was built, Hawaiian Gardens was near bankruptcy. The city, located in the southeast portion of the county, even did away with its Police Department.
"I'm very thankful" for the casino, said Sue Underwood, who is the city clerk and a 32-year resident of Hawaiian Gardens. "We were $4 million in the hole. We tried a number of different things. The card club was just about the only thing we could have that would have any revenue."
Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2004
State Gives Casino Owner a License -- With Strings
By Sam Quinones
Times Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO - State gambling regulators granted Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz a permanent license Thursday for his card club in Hawaiian Gardens, but only after imposing conditions in response to concerns over his management.
The decision came after several hearings, beginning last December, before the state Gambling Control Commission in which Moskowitz's opponents alleged he had used proceeds from his gambling businesses to destabilize peace efforts in the Middle East.
Moskowitz, who lives in Florida, owns a casino and bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens, the smallest city in Los Angeles County. He has given millions of dollars to build and support Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The commission's 3-0 vote to approve the license came after commissioners proposed a series of conditions that include requiring Moskowitz to establish an independent auditing committee to review the finances of the casino, make quarterly reports to the state on any cheating or misconduct at the casino and to station licensed security guards around the facility.
Commissioners said they were concerned that Moskowitz was an absentee owner and lacked sufficient control of his business.
Commissioner Michael Palmer said he wanted to avoid "a situation like Enron" in which senior executives insisted they were ignorant of misconduct by employees.
Commissioners Dean Shelton and J.K. Sasaki joined Palmer on the vote. Commissioner Arlo Smith abstained, saying he had too many unanswered questions about Moskowitz and the casino.
In 2000, a report by a state joint legislative audit committee headed by former Assemblyman Scott Wildman alleged that Moskowitz had used massive cash donations to manipulate Hawaiian Gardens into approving the card club, which has been operating for the past several years on a provisional license.
The report also said that Moskowitz persuaded the city to illegally use redevelopment money to help build the casino and that he had violated the law in locating it near a school and a church.
Moskowitz's attorney, Beryl Weiner, denied the report's allegations at the time.
More recently, a group of current and ex-employees has alleged that loan sharking, job-selling and forced tip pooling were common within the casino.
The commissioners who voted to approve the license said they believed the state Department of Justice had thoroughly investigated claims of malfeasance and misconduct within the casino.
The hearing, which took place in a drab state building in Sacramento, was rife with references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Dr. Moskowitz has illegally fanned the flames of this unending violence with money he's exacted from his Hawaiian Gardens Casino," said Wildman.
Louie Lu, a former dealer at the casino and former informant for the state Division of Gambling Control, criticized the casino's general manager, Ron Sarabi.
Lu and other employees said they believe Sarabi allows activities such as loan-sharking and job-selling at the casino.
"The management is doing the wrong thing," said Lu, who was fired in 2003, but whose wife still works at the casino. "Nobody is able to control the management."
After the hearing, Sarabi declined to comment.
Both the casino and Moskowitz, however, received strong support from Leonard Chaidez, mayor of Hawaiian Gardens.
"What's at stake here is the economic progress of the whole city," he said.
Hawaiian Gardens, with a population of about 15,700, is less than a square mile in size. The city relies on the casino for 75% of its $11-million budget.
"We absolutely support that casino, and we absolutely support Irving Moskowitz as the operator. He's an honorable man," said Chaidez.
"We have the only senior lunch program that's free in the state of California because he's helped it get that way," he said. "You want to know where the money's gone? It's gone to the 80% increase to housing rehab. It's gone to a 70% increase for senior citizen trips."
Opponents of Moskowitz said they were discouraged by the commission's action.
"We don't understand how they could have said that [the state Department of Justice] thoroughly investigated" claims of misconduct at the casino, said Jane Hunter, co-director of the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem, which runs a website, stopmoskowitz.org. "We know it didn't."
"The people of California still don't know how bad you have to be in order to be denied a casino license," she said.
Long Beach Press Telegram, Editorial, August 21, 2004
Hawaiian Gardens casino charges must be resolved.
An unenthusiastic state Gambling Control Commission granted the controversial card club in Hawaiian Gardens a one-year conditional operating license last week, instead of the permanent license the casino had been seeking. One commissioner abstained from the vote because he felt the panel had more questions about the casino than answers.
He's right: The state needs to get to the truth of what's going on at the Hawaiian Gardens casino.
That hasn't always been easy to sort out. The casino's owner, Irving Moskowitz, a physician who lives in Florida, has made more than a few enemies because he spends millions buying land for Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the West Bank through his charitable foundation.
Moskowitz is a polarizing figure, beloved by some in Hawaiian Gardens for rescuing the city from bankruptcy (the casino now provides 75 percent of the city's $11 million annual budget and funds other programs) and despised by others for his activism, which some say directly disrupts peace progress in the Middle East.
Sorting out the venomous attacks from legitimate criticism complicates matters, but it's up to the state to get it done. The allegations of improper activities at the casino must be investigated fully before the state should even consider granting the establishment a permanent license.
Perhaps the most troubling are charges, made by a group of employees who recently filed a lawsuit against the casino, that the gambling hall also serves as a major loan-sharking operation. The employees claim that casino money is regularly used for loans to players and dealers.
The employees also allege that workers are made to illegally pool their tips, which were then redistributed. Furthermore, the employees claim, the casino demands payments of thousands of dollars from workers who want the most lucrative jobs. If true, it would violate state labor laws.
Other questions have swirled around the casino for years that demand further investigation. A 2000 report by the state legislative audit committee found evidence that Moskowitz persuaded Hawaiian Gardens City Council members, whose campaigns he bankrolled, to use redevelopment money illegally to build the casino. But the committee never went further than raising allegations (which have all been denied by Moskowitz's attorneys).
The abstaining commissioner's logic was entirely reasonable: There are too many unanswered questions about the casino.
The general public isn't overly concerned with one man's Middle East activities, but it is highly concerned with the prospect that a large local casino is accused by some of venturing into territory often occupied by organized crime.
The situation demands a strong investigation by the state, aggressive oversight, and most of all, some factual answers to the questions surrounding the Hawaiian Gardens card club.
Long Beach Press Telegram, August 20, 2004
Hawaiian Gardens casino OK'd by state
Panel grants owner a one-year license.
By Press-Telegram wire reports
Thursday, August 19, 2004 - SACRAMENTO - The state Gambling Control Commission voted 3-1 Thursday to give the Hawaiian Gardens Casino a one-year conditional operating license.
Casino owner Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz, a multimillionaire who lives in Florida, previously had a provisional license, and he is seeking a permanent gambling license.
The conditional license is effective Sept. 1 and is contingent upon the payment of licensing fees and four application requirements, including beefing up security, a commission spokeswoman said.
Moskowitz is internationally known for sending money to pay for Jewish settlements on land in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Critics have alleged that Moskowitz's activities in the Middle East threaten the possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Five current and former employees also have sued the casino for alleged labor-law violations, including having dealers pay part of their tips to management.
Before the commission vote, Sacramento attorney Bion Gregory, who is representing Moskowitz, said the allegations of improper activities at the Hawaiian Gardens Casino have no merit. Gambling control officials with the state would have contacted Moskowitz if they found any evidence to back up the allegations during an investigation that accompanies any license application, Gregory said.
The Forward, August 27, 2004
Moskowitz Gets License
The California Gambling Control Commission last week granted controversial philanthropist Irving Moskowitz a permanent license for his casino in the city of Hawaiian Gardens. Both Moskowitz's casino and bingo hall in the small, impoverished town near Los Angeles have long been the subject of intense criticism from a coalition of Jewish peace activists. These critics have drawn attention to Moskowitz's use of proceeds from the bingo parlor to fund right-wing settler groups in Israel.
In hearings before the gambling commission over the last eight months, former employees of Moskowitz have complained about the casino's labor practices and its detrimental effect on the community in Hawaiian Gardens. Last week, Los Angeles Times reported that seven former employees of the casino have alleged that it is the site of a loan-sharking operation. Moskowitz has been defended by members of the Hawaiian Gardens city council, who have pointed to the profits that flow into the city coffers from the casino and bingo hall.
The four gambling control commissioners voiced concerns that Moskowitz did not have sufficient control over activities at his casino. Three of the commissioners voted to give Moskowitz a permanent license on the condition that he take a number of measures toward making the casino's business practices more transparent. The fourth commissioner abstained from the vote, making reference to unresolved grand jury proceedings that allegedly have dealt with Moskowitz and his gambling establishments.